From Miss Delia Dainty to Diana Parker : bodily spinster stereotypes in Jane Austen’s works



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As constant reminders of marital failure, spinsters are usually only minor characters in the marriage plot novel. Indeed, only four spinster characters show up throughout Jane Austen’s complete oeuvre: Miss Bates from Emma, Mrs. Percival from Catharine, or the Bower, and Diana and Susan Parker from Sanditon. Through a reading of William Hayley’s A Philosophical, Historical, and Moral Essay on Old Maids (1785) and a discussion of hypochondria and invalidism, this project explores how Austen works with late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century stereotypes surrounding the spinster body. I argue that Austen crafts her spinster figures’ bodies in a way that questions their status as “wasted goods” in a society so focused on marriage. While Austen does align her spinster characters with certain body stereotypes, she does so in ways that give power to these characters and undermine conservative ideology.